A child-size robot might mean big advances in speech rehab. An electronic helper named uBot-5 has made noteworthy gains in “treating” a stroke patient during language classes and physical therapy, leading scientists to see new possibilities with robot rehab.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst paired a 72-year-old stroke patient, suffering from the language disorder aphasia and a physical disability on one side, with a specially designed robot during treatment sessions. The robot guided the patient through both speech therapy (including word-retrieval games) and physical therapy (such as arm exercises).
The results were noteworthy, both for the patient’s verbal skills and arm movements. And even better, the treatments taught researchers a thing or two about how patients learn.
The robot taught the patient in two ways. During one period of treatments, the patient took speech and physical therapy sessions back-to-back. During another period, the patient focused on one type of treatment, completed the process, and then focused exclusively on the other type.
Turns out, splitting up the treatments boosted the patient’s success rate. And why? Researchers think the two therapies might compete for attention in the brain when done together.
But with all that in mind, don’t get ready to give up your doc. A therapist still runs the robot through a video screen, which functions somewhat like the gaming system Xbox Kinect, to help detect movements and guide gestures. The uBot-5’s independent movements are fairly limited.
However, with shortages of specialized therapists, a large aging population and the rising costs of elder care, there’s solid promise from this little bot. This type of technology eventually could benefit rural patients without easy doctor access. And by helping patients more at home, it could help delay institutionalization of seniors.
The advances in speech rehab are quickly developing, and there’s a different solution for each patient. If you’re unsure of your options, or if you have a family member who needs help, we’d invite you to give us a call.